Kim Nahrgang draws on what she knows to train the next generation

May 12, 2019

Thirteen-year-old Kim Nahrgang was helping out on her family farm, racking up what would be the first of many experiences with blood, shots and needles, when the idea of nursing first crossed her mind.

“My dad actually said, ‘You’re never going to be a nurse if you don’t learn how to do this.’ And I kind of looked at him and said, ’What do you mean, be a nurse?” she said.

She didn’t remember ever telling him she wanted to pursue that path. But at that moment, he planted a seed — one that has blossomed into a robust career that took her from Minnesota to Las Vegas and back, gave her a laundry list of experience in the field and played a part in creating a life she’s proud of.

Nahrgang, who has spent the past five years as staff development director at Saint Anne of Winona, was nominated for outstanding service in nursing in the La Crosse and Winona areas for “Nurses: The Heart of Health Care,” sponsored by the River Valley Media Group.

She is also an instructor at Saint Anne’s training center, which readies future nurses for their career with CNA and CPR certifications, as well as coordinating her organization’s part in REACH at Winona Senior High, a program that allows students to gain real-world experience in the healthcare field.

“Every path my life has taken, there has been a nursing position that fits very well with that path,” Nahrgang said.

After graduating college, Nahrgang went west, working at a children’s hospital in Las Vegas.

She then returned home — because “it’s really hard to take a Minnesota farm girl and plant her in the desert,” she said with a laugh — and worked in home care in Rochester and as director of nursing at an assisted-living facility in Lewiston, as well as a smattering of other related jobs, before accepting the position at Saint Anne.

And her breadth of experience on the front lines makes a solid bridge between staff and management.

“I know both ends of it,” Nahrgang said. “I love saying, ‘That is not going to work. This might work,’ and then seeing the final product.”

For example, the information a new CNA needs to digest is “staggering,” she said. She’s working to evaluate how that information is shared and streamlined during the onboarding process.

“We know we need to meet regulation, but we also need them to provide the care,” Nahrgang said. “Let’s start developing other programming where we can get them to the floor … let’s make some more engaging learning opportunities, versus just PowerPoints.”

She’s also resurrected SAW University, an orientation program where Saint Anne staff can gather once a month for a meet-and-greet, as well as the preceptor program, which reimburses certain employees who are responsible for thoroughly training new associates.

The best part of mentoring and training the next generation of nurses, she said, is watching the students on the last day of their clinical experience, noting how they’ve come out of their shell and can speak enthusiastically about their time with patients at Saint Anne.

“I’m very proud of them, each and every class that goes through here, because they feel so good about themselves,” she said.

And though it’s been a few years since she was in their shoes, she’s only a step away from her roots.

“Any time I want to, I can empty a garbage, scrub toilets, serve a meal. I can go help someone get dressed, I can bathe someone,” Nahrgang said. “Nobody is going to say, ‘Whoa, Kim, what are you doing?’ If I see something that needs to be done, I just do it.”